By Chris Mellides
Some people slow down for a quick look. Others come to a complete stop, if only for a few moments, to take a closer look, and move on. Still others linger to observe the neatly arranged hand-drawn illustrations that line the brick wall outside Starbucks along Wall Street in Huntington.
Drawings of ancient warriors, Vikings and dragons leap from the paper on top of cardboard or sheets of white construction paper stapled to thick card stock, while interpretations of animals, limbs often extended outward and cut off at the corners of the page are complemented by trimmed bar fliers stapled to the canvas.
In Huntington village, Travis Hunt, 38, is either the guy you’ve always wondered about, or someone you’ve known for years simply as Travis.
His hair, matted and long, is tucked beneath an orange baseball cap that he wears backwards. Occasionally, he’ll scratch at his beard or shift his weight under his blue walking cane, but he will usually smile or strike up a conversation with anyone interested in his creations.
When he’s showing his work, Hunt, who lives in Huntington, is invariably sitting Indian-style due to his club foot, which he has had since birth. It causes him to walk with a limp.
In addition to Starbucks, Hunt can be found at Escape Pod Comics on Main Street, at The Book Revue on New York Avenue, or even hanging around on weekends near the farmer’s market. Vendors and regulars to those locations know Travis well, and likely have either bought or been given one of his artworks.
Before his parents’ separation when he was a young child, Hunt lived in upstate New York, where his father’s family resided. They would make trips to Long Island to visit with his mother’s grandparents. By 7, Long Island became his permanent home.
Remembering his time upstate fondly, particularly because of his exposure to nature, Hunt said the woods and wildlife populating the area surrounding his childhood home inspired him to become an artist.
“Because I’m from upstate New York, I like to do a lot of nature-based drawings of animals,” said Hunt. “But, I also grew up with dinosaurs, and I used to watch monster movies as a kid.”
Aside from nature, there are facets of popular culture that he also considers inspirational, including comic books, New York City graffiti and underground music.
Hunt has also been known to fashion sculptures out of tin foil and plastic and has also tried his hand at performance art, which includes juggling and magic routines he’s worked on to entertain young parishioners visiting Huntington’s Central Presbyterian Church.
Rev. David Aldridge, Central’s pastor since 2005, has known Hunt for seven years and first met him when he worked with the YMCA before that.
“Travis has become part of the fabric of Huntington,” said Aldridge. “He’s on the ground and people walk by him and they don’t see the attention that he gives to his art.”
“He takes a certain amount of pride to be able to take things that are thrown away and to make another use of them, to recycle them and to turn them into artwork and I think that’s pretty cool,” he added.
Hunt attended Flower Hill Primary School in Huntington and graduated in 1989. During the years he attended the school, he admitted to having a learning disability, while also being teased by other students because of his foot.
“There were a lot of people who looked down on me and told me that they didn’t think I could do anything, and I used to believe them,” Hunt said. “I had it tough. Back then, they didn’t have names for dyslexia and stuff like that.”
Feeling the pressure of school life and struggling to keep up with a demanding curriculum, Hunt would often daydream and sought the comfort that came with drawing pieces of imagery he’d imagined while deep in thought.
Later, he attended Manor Plains High School, which is part of Western Suffolk BOCES. Hunt said he attempted to learn multiple vocations, but found that it was difficult sticking to one field.
Following graduation from Manor Plains in 1998, Hunt went into janitorial work and was working with the Family Service League, which provides housing and health services for the homeless.
“I went there for a vocational work program, but at the same time I did food service there, and I had to work with some people that were mentally not there.”
He said that he tried studying automotive repair, “which didn’t work out so well,” especially because he would be picked on and teased by other students because of his disability.
He also tried electrical engineering, but he “kept burning circuit boards and all of that.”
Finally, a friend of his recommended a Dix Hills vocational school where they had an art advertising program, and that’s where Hunt says he felt most at home.
“It was really cool. I signed myself up for that program where you got to draw your own signs and you even got to write and publish your own comic book, which I thought was pretty cool,” said Hunt.
After a while, he connected with Skills Unlimited, a vocational school for the disabled, where he received job coaching that prepared him to work as a custodian at the YMCA, which he did for about 13 years.
“I mopped and took care of the garbage, but I also looked out for the kids there,” Hunt said. “I made stuff that was considered a waste of time back in my school, and it was a good thing that I worked at the Y because I wanted to show all of the kids that you can make art out of anything.”
Hunt’s own work has not gone unnoticed.
Menachem Luchins, owner of Escape Pod Comics, said Hunt was one of the first visitors to his shop when he opened three years ago and returned to go through the old comics and “talk about how much he used to love this stuff.”
“Eventually, within a month or so, he started showing me his art, showing customers his art and occasionally, when we’ve had big events, he’s come and talked to people about what he does and what he likes about it.”
Luchins said Hunt’s work is open to interpretation. Speaking about its general appeal, however, he says there’s definitely an “outsider art feel to it.”
Huntington resident Beverly Pribek, a customer at the Starbucks where Hunt shows his work quite often, said she always seen him sitting on the sidewalk observing the passersby.
“Huntington is an artsy town and it seems appropriate that people are sketching and drawing like Travis is. He seems to be using black chalk when he draws, and I often see him with his artwork sort of piling up on the sidewalk.”
She added, “I do see him as a fixture and he’s the only one I’ve ever seen doing what it is he does.”
Coffee house employee Todd Campofranco said Hunt “has a good soul and good intentions. He shares joy with people – that’s the way human nature should be.”
Travis says he believes in his artwork, but he doesn’t make a lot of money off of it – a few dollars a week on average – and he occassionally deals with harassment.
“I do deal with ignorance, but I deal with some cool parts, too. That’s why I keep going to work and I keep doing what I do. That’s just what works for me.”